‘If you deny that the need is there, then you’ll never build the services and you’ll never see it.’
The phrase, “Build it and they will come” is usually reserved for business and baseball fields. But Olivander Day, a harm reduction worker in Langford uses it differently.
Day coordinates the Westshore AVI Health Centre, a harm-reduction clinic for drug users on the Westshore where the goal is to promote health, dignity, and well-being. The full name, AIDS Vancouver Island, dates back to its roots in the midst of the AIDS crisis—but its role has evolved to help mitigate the distinctly contemporary crisis in opioids. Patients get a doctor, access to a social worker, a nurse, harm reduction supplies, and peer support.
The need is immense and has grown starkly worse during the pandemic. Many programs that had been supporting users through the toxic drug crisis were closed, temporarily or for good, in response to the pandemic. On the Westshore, the need for services—like safe supply, drug testing, supervised consumption, medical care, or counselling—tends to be hidden compared to downtown Victoria.
“We know the need is huge, but we don’t know exactly how much is needed,” Day said. “There’s not great data on what the need is in the western communities in general, because homelessness and poverty looks very different out here than it looks downtown. But there’s thousands of people who are not getting care who need it, that’s for sure.”